Heading into next season Christopher Jullien may about to feel the weight of pressure as Celtic’s only recognised central defender.
Not only is the Frenchman facing a hell of a task to be fit enough to start next season, when he does it looks like his partnership with Kris Ajer, according to the numbers crunched by Alan Morrison of Celtic By Numbers fame, the partnership – statistically the best since Denayer and Van Dijk – is likely to have been broken up, with Ajer keen to move on and linked recently with Newcastle and Norwich as well as in January with Italian giants AC Milan. Wherever Celtic’s best performing defender ducks off to its safe to say he’s highly unlikely to be the new manager’s player for next season.
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As we touched on in a previous article difficulties around scouting players, and with a budget having to stretch to almost every key position in the Celtic team, it is certainly worth Celtic’s new coaching team looking closer to home for established Scottish performers ready to make the next step up. The centre of defence is one such position.
One club performing surprisingly well, despite the loss of their legendary cup winning manager Tommy Wright last summer, is St Johnstone. Already League Cup winners under new manager Callum Davidson they are now one of the favourites to make it a cup double as, having dispensed with theRangers by way of an Ibrox penalty shoot-out in the quarter finals, they now face St Mirren in the semi-final.
Add to that they’ve achieved a top-six finish after a start to the season that had some questioning the appointment of a rookie boss. There are no such questions being asked now and when it comes to choosing both a team and manager of the year the Perth Saints and Callum Davidson would top a lot of Scottish football fans shortlists – they certainly would mine.
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If Celtic are to look to home grown players to strengthen the squad it may well be worth considering St Johnstone captain Jason Kerr as a player ready to make the step up. Kerr has recently turned 24 and is reaching the perfect time in his career to test himself at a higher level. To do this Kerr needs to be looking to a club with regular European football. On the back of a top six finish and the possibility of leaving as a Domestic double trophy winning Saint’s Captain now may be the best time to bow out, and for Celtic it wouldn’t be breaking the back of a limited budget to test the Saints resolve with a bid for their on-field leader this summer.
For me Kerr is the best defender in Scotland outside the top two. It must be a head scratcher for Saints fans as to how their Captain has been overlooked for international recognition so far this season, especially when he had been capped six times at Under 21 level. With 109 appearances under his belt now at St Johnstone, allied to a further 85 appearances on loan prior to breaking into the team at Queen of the South and East Fife, Kerr has certainly earned his stripes and was rewarded for his excellent performances when awarded the captaincy at Perth after the departure of Joe Shaughnessy.
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Kerr is a composed footballing defender, controlled in possession he has similar traits to Kris Ajer in the way he likes to bring the ball out from the back in St Johnstone’s three at the back formation, break the lines and start attacks, perfect for a Celtic team with lines to break. He is strong in the tackle and is an impressive reader of the game and very disciplined positionally. Allied to that he perhaps has one edge to his game that Ajer lacks – goals. As well as Kerr defends his own box, he is also a threat in the opposition area with 20 goals to his name already. Certainly a good return for a defender.
It is of course unlikely St Johnstone would wish to part with such a key component to a side who could yet deliver a domestic cup double, particularly one they obviously rate highly enough to have handed the captaincy to at such a young age. However, with only a year left on his contract – it expires in May 2022 – the Saints would be hard pushed to expect a huge fee for the player and Celtic could reasonably expect to turn the players head, particularly with international ambitions that have thus far been overlooked while playing for what some may deem an unfashionable club.
Success brings attention and Jason Kerr alongside a couple of others in the St Johnstone team will be attracting attention in the next few weeks when the transfer window opens.
Jason Kerr will move on to a bigger club and he will also be a Scottish international sooner rather than later, perhaps both those things could be achieved with a move to Celtic but the club will have to move fast. If St Johnstone win both domestic trophies there will be more than a few coveting the Saints young Captain, and with Celtic looking for someone assist Christopher Jullien next season it would be wise to look closer to home for the solution.